Activewear is simple to look at, snug to wear and slick to touch, and this most modern running- or cycling-suit descriptor could also indeed fit the 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Active.
With Hyundai’s new large SUV, the Active continues as the entry-level model, which looks simple and unassuming, yet it offers the same slick diesel engine and locally-tuned chassis as the much more expensive model grades.
Although the new-generation seven-seat Santa Fe is larger than before, it remains much smaller on the outside than US-focused rivals such as the Mazda CX-9, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota Kluger that are supersized, not snug.
Its slick new design instead challenges the slightly smaller seven-seat breed of Kia Sorento, Mazda CX-8 and Skoda Kodiaq, which come to think of it could fit that simple/slick/snug SUV descriptor too. So, what does the Hyundai Santa Fe do to differentiate itself from rivals?
Vehicle Style: Large SUV
Price: $46,000 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 147kW/440Nm 2.2-litre turbo-diesel 4cyl | eight-speed automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 7.5 l/100km Tested: 9.5 l/100km
The previous-generation Santa Fe was offered in 199kW/318Nm 3.3-litre petrol V6-only Active X specification priced from $40,990 plus on-road costs, where the new Santa Fe starts with a 138kW/241Nm 2.4-litre petrol four-cylinder Active from $43,000 (plus orc).
At least paying more for less power/torque is offset by all-wheel drive (AWD) replacing the previous front-wheel drive, however the Camry-rivalling on-paper outputs certainly don’t appear healthy enough to lug along a large SUV that weighs 1745kg – or 250kg more than that affordable and popular Toyota sedan even before kids and luggage are thrown in.
As with the previous-gen, however, the diesel engine will be far more popular than either the old V6 or new four-cylinder petrol anyway. All of which leads to the $3000-optional 147kW/440Nm 2.2-litre turbo-diesel being tested here, in Active spec at $46,000 (plus orc).
The AWD continues as standard, but despite adding mass (it now weighs 1870kg) as well as 9kW of power and a more significant 199Nm of torque over the petrol, the diesel reduces the claimed combined-cycle fuel consumption from 9.5 litres per 100 kilometres to 7.5L/100km. In short, it will save about $500 on fuel over 15,000km, while offering stronger performance.
THE INTERIOR | RATING: 3.0/5
Standard Equipment: Remote central locking, adaptive cruise control, automatic on/off headlights, power windows and mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshifter, and manual air-conditioning with third-row fan control.
Infotainment: 7.0-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth and AUX/USB connectivity, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring and six speakers.
Options Fitted: None.
Cargo Volume: 547 litres (5 seat).
Impressively, Hyundai has made adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitor, automatic up/down high-beam, lane-departure alert with active lane-keep assistance and forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking (AEB) standard across the range.
This democratisation of tech is matched by its closest rival, the Mazda CX-8 Sport, which costs $46,490 (plus orc) – $490 more than the Santa Fe Active. Both are diesels of the same capacity, each offering AWD, seven seats and five year warranties. It just couldn’t be closer.
In both cases, this South Korean and that Japanese large SUV then also ask for a lot to move further up the range. The Santa Fe Elite with the same diesel/AWD sits $8K upstream at $54,000 (plus orc), while a CX-8 Asaki moves $15K ahead at $61,490 (plus orc). Ouch.
There’s an upside to the Mazda and downside to the Hyundai when talking about these base models, though, because the Santa Fe Active offers competitive active safety tech but uncompetitive standard equipment.
Step inside the new, tastefully furnished and semi-premium cabin, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel is about the only suggestion that this is a $46K model grade. The otherwise intuitive and high-resolution 7.0-inch touchscreen is smaller than the Elite’s 8.0in, but it lacks the digital radio and integrated satellite navigation of the CX-8 Sport.
Rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and tri-zone climate control are standard in the Mazda, but missing here – and with the Hyundai, only manual air-conditioning is standard, although uniquely there are third-row air vents with fan control.
Even then, its Korean Kia Sorento Si cousin with the same diesel engine also costs $46,490 (plus orc) and gets nav, digital radio and dual-zone climate control standard, as well as the third-row vents/fan control. For the price, more convenience items are simply required here.
On the flipside, in almost every other way this model scores inside.
The front seats are among the broadest and most comfortable of anything from any segment, and that’s even before noting the ‘premium trackpants’ cloth trim that looks and feels great. Dimpled speaker grilles, consistently-matched soft-touch plastics, and terrific fit-and-finish all further build on the impression that this is a high-quality large SUV regardless of spec.
The Santa Fe also most scores as a five-seater, with a superbly plush middle bench offering acres of headroom and legroom plus recline and slide adjustment, console-mounted air vents and twin USB ports. Quite simply, this is a better middle row than what the CX-8 offers.
In five-seat mode there’s also a huge 547 litres of luggage space, though this is reduced to just 130L with the 50:50-split third-row in use. Here, the tables turn with the Mazda because those sixth and seventh seats are notably flatter, there’s much less headroom and all-seats-up boot space, plus the curtain airbags only partially extend to the rearmost duo of pews.
But as a 5+2-seater, and excluding the equipment deficit, this Active performs well inside.
ON THE ROAD | RATING: 4.0/5
Engine: 147kW/440Nm 2.0-litre turbo-petrol 4cyl
Transmission: Six-speed automatic, FWD
Suspension: MacPherson strut front and independent rear
Brakes: Ventilated front and solid rear disc brakes
Steering: Electrically assisted mechanical steering
There is no need to beat around the bush – the new-generation Santa Fe is so much better to drive than before. For a start, the steering wheel isn’t the size of a bus, and the smaller rim gels with nicely mid-weighted and decently sharp response that makes it a delight to turn.
Flying in the face of its modest 65-aspect 17-inch Hankou tyres, the handling of this Active is entirely impressive as well, with a level of body control and agility that leaves even a CX-8 flailing about (albeit in a more fun and playful fashion) on its similarly sensible footwear.
Here, it’s all about flat and composed responses, with the nicely balanced chassis and well-judged spring and damper rates all backed by a masterful electronic stability control (ESC).
Even the diesel engine steps up with an impressive lack of turbocharger lag, which helps to deliver near-instant throttle response from a standing start that continues towards a reasonable surge of acceleration through the mid-range. The new eight-speed automatic transmission helps, owing to a short first gear and relaxed top gear, plus intuitive tuning.
Indeed, on-road caveats are few with this new-gen large SUV. That diesel should be much quieter, both on start-up and with initial acceleration, although it does smoothen out at speed.
In a similar parallel, that dynamic suspension tune does jiggle about and permit more minor road surface niggles into the cabin than either CX-8 or Sorento, although it too becomes silkier at speed while also delivering superb rough-road body control.
In a family car context, though, ride comfort should be the priority over cornering ability, and the balance should fall (if only slightly) further towards the former here.
Otherwise, should a buyer travel off-road there is a handy ‘lock’ button that delivers a fixed 50:50 torque split between front and rear axles, and that certainly feels more secure than an ‘adaptive’ AWD system that leaves computers to decide where to direct the engine outputs.
Any Santa Fe can also tow up to two tonnes, which is a match for the CX-8 but a fair way down on the 2.7 tonnes the former locally built Ford Territory was able to tow, for example. It’s also curious why the torquey diesel can’t tow more that the petrol.
ANCAP rating: Not tested.
Safety Features: Six airbags, ABS and ESC, forward collision alert with autonomous emergency braking (AEB), reverse-view camera, rear parking sensors, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitor and lane-departure warning with active lane-keep assistance.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Five years/unlimited km
Servicing: With annual or 15,000km intervals, Hyundai’s capped-price servicing program costs $399 for each of the first three check-ups, then $499 (fourth) and $399 (fifth).
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Sorento Si offers superb interior quality, a high level of equipment, plush ride and seven-year warranty – just enough to be our pick of these entry-level model grades.
Meanwhile, the CX-8 Sport comes close, being a better seven seater than most for this price, with a decent boot, rear head airbags and a supportive third-row, plus enjoyable dynamics and a quieter diesel than the Santa Fe.
Finally, the diesel Kodiaq 140TDI 4x4 is expensive at $49K, and we’ve avoided comparison here because frankly the much cheaper petrol 132TSI 4x4 at $43K is better value and a really quite brilliant – more compact yet clever – seven-seat option. All three are top-class picks.
Kia Sorento Si
Mazda CX-8 Sport
Skoda Kodiaq 140TDI 4x4
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5
The Santa Fe Active is a four-star large SUV but for its lack of standard equipment.
Given the superb level of active safety technology included, and the equally excellent interior quality, equipment such as climate control, digital radio and nav should be standard for $46K.
Such features come in the Santa Fe Elite along with keyless auto-entry, electric tailgate, leather trim, electrically adjustable front seats, premium Infinity audio and more – making it the on-paper value star, despite a much higher $54K ask. Right there, it gets its half-star back.
Otherwise this new-generation Hyundai large SUV excels with excellent steering and handling, plus reasonable refinement with the single exception of a too-noisy diesel. Even so, the engine itself is a slick unit and is arguably worth spending the extra on over the far more torque-limited petrol – if this activewear-simple Active model grade is a must, that is.
- Interested in buying Hyundai Santa Fe? Visit our Hyundai showroom for more information.